The practice by European fishermen of throwing away large amounts of the fish they catch must end, the European Commission said yesterday, in outlining radical proposals to shake up Europe's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
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The controversial dumping of "discards", fish that have been caught but are too small or too uncommercial to be landed, must be stopped, and all fish caught will have to be brought to port, said the EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki.
She was announcing a series of measures designed to restore the health of Europe's overexploited fish stocks and give struggling fishermen a secure economic future.
Mrs Damanaki's proposals, centring on the aim of bringing all stocks back to "sustainable" levels by 2015, seek to repair a CFP which has brought both the fishing industry and the Euro- pean marine environment to a crisis.
At least 70 per cent of Europe's fish stocks are now fully or over-exploited – a far higher figure than in other parts of the world such as Australia or the US – and without radical action, it is estimated that the figure will exceed 90 per cent in ten years' time.
Mrs Damanaki's proposals include the adoption of an "ecosystem approach" to fisheries management which will stop them being seen in isolation from other issues, such as the development of marine-protected areas or the construction of offshore wind farms.
The proposals also include targets and timeframes to stop overfishing, improved data collection, and mandatory labelling schemes, so that customers can get better information on the fish they buy.
But it is the proposal to end the practice of discards – where half the fish netted can be thrown back into the sea – that is the most immediately eye-catching, not least because it has been the subject of a campaign in Britain by the celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, whose online Fish Fight petition, describing discards as "an insane waste", now has 700,000 supporters.
Mr Fearnley- Whittingstall said yesterday: "It's not perfect but it's a brave step in the right direction and we should applaud Commissioner Damanaki for ensuring discards are on the agenda."
Britain's fisheries minister Richard Benyon said the plans were a "vital first step" in reviving the state of Europe's fisheries. "The current CFP has failed," he said. "Only genuine fundamental reform of this broken policy can turn around these failures."
Environmental campaigners gave the proposals a mixed and cautious welcome, saying that they did not go far enough, and could easily be blocked by European politicians.
Dr Euan Dunn, head of marine policy for the RSPB, said that the aim of restoring stocks by 2015 was "a really important development."
But he added: "There are certainly powerful forces at work who want to keep business as usual."